Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou Hwan, South Korea’s first cardinal, passed away on Monday at the age of 86 after many years devoted to the Church in Seoul and the introduction of democracy. Pope Benedict has sent a telegram to Catholics in Seoul offering his condolences and prayers.
The late cardinal was known for his efforts to build up the Church in South Korea by reaching out to the youth, the working class and the educated. His advocacy for democracy was based on the Catholic faith and its understanding of God-given human rights.
According to his biography on his personal website, "He expressed his deep interest and grave concern for the repressed and the underprivileged and did not hesitate to speak out on the oppressive political situation."
Many South Koreans, including non-Catholics respected Cardinal Kim as the country's spiritual leader.
Cardinal Kim was hospitalized with frail health in October last year and fell into brief comas several times, Yonhap News reports.
Cardinal Kim was made the cardinal of Seoul by Pope Paul VI in 1968 at the age of 46, making him the youngest member of the College of Cardinals at that time.
He was archbishop of Seoul from 1968 until 1998 and also in charge of the diocese of Pyongyang in North Korea from 1975 until 1998, though he was never able to travel to the country due to the peninsula's division and constraints on worship there, the Associated Press says.
Upon learning of Cardinal Kim’s passing, Pop Benedict XVI sent a telegram in English to his successor Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk.
"Deeply saddened to learn of the death of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, I offer heartfelt condolences to you and to all the people of Korea," the Pope wrote.
Pope Benedict also highlighted his gratitude for "Cardinal Kim's long years of devoted service to the Catholic community in Seoul and his many years of faithful assistance … as a member of the College of Cardinals."
"I join you in praying that God our merciful Father will grant him the reward of his labours and welcome his noble soul into the joy and peace of the heavenly kingdom. To Cardinal Kim's relatives and all assembled for the solemn Mass of Christian burial I cordially impart my apostolic blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in the Lord."